Life in Progress: A weblog by Heidi Price

Cooking for compliments

"Guess what I'm doing?" I asked when the saint-in-my-life called last Monday night.

I call him a saint because even though he had just finished a 12-hour work day, he called. He called even though I know the last thing he probably wanted to do at the end of a long work day was listen to me babble.

He said he couldn't possibly guess. He was too tired.

"Come on. Guess," I pushed. "I'll give you a hint. It is something I never do."

I'm trying to become domestic. Lately, every time I cook anything, I tend to hammer the point again and again and again. After two missed guesses that led me to believe he thinks I spend my off hours engaging in all maner of unhealthy behavior - he nailed it.

"You're cooking," he said.

Bingo. I had been in the kitchen for hours singing "I Believe I can Fly" by R. Kelly and pressing plum tomatoes through a strainer. I added each cup of puree to a pot of what I hoped would soon resemble creamy tomato soup.

I wanted to do something with the bumper crop of plum tomatoes in my garden. As fate would have it, a few days earlier, a coworker lent me a recipe for Cream of Tomato Soup. Many years back, his wife had taken a cooking class in Pittsburgh with French chef Jacques Pépin and received several recipes to take home. Once I made this recipe, my coworker told me, I would never eat tomato soup out of a can again.

The soup turned out to be every bit incredible as promised. Make it, if only to fill your kitchen with the aroma of French thyme sauteing in onions, butter and garlic.

Cream of Fresh Tomato Soup or Potage a la Creme de Tomates

(Serves 6 to 8)

4 Tbsps. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced thin (about 1 and 1/4 cups)
3 to 4 ripe tomatoes, chopped coarsely (I used my puree from my plum tomatoes)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 sprig thyme
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. sugar
dash of salt
dash of freshly ground white pepper (I found small containers for 99 cents at Penn Mac in the Strip.)
1 cup heavy cream

- Heat 2 Tablespoons of butter with the oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and thyme and sauté for about five minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Sprinkle with the flour and mix well with a wooden spatula. Add the broth, sugar, salt and pepper. Simmer 15 minutes.

- Pour into the container of a food processor (I used a blender. It worked fine.) and blend at high speed for a couple of seconds. Strain through a fine sieve. Pour into a saucepan and add the cream. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 to 3 minutes.

- At serving time, stir in the remaining butter, bit by bit. Serve with or without croutons. (I made grilled cheese with swiss and Italian bread.)


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